The grounds of Russborough House opened up for what is sure to be the first of many successful fun-filled family weekends at the Wicklow stately house. To the delight of anyone that knows of the upper body workout that is wheeling a buggy through mud, the weather held up for the most part. Saturday was glorious while Sunday, after a light shower in the morning, merely threatened with dark clouds, never opening up. Not only was the entire weekend a hassle free, friendly, joyous environment, the grounds were also left in immaculate condition; with rarely a sign of litter on the ground.
To open the main stage on the Saturday was the responsibility of Choice Music Prize nominee Laoise. With her brand of synth-driven electro-pop she commanded the big stage with her performance; hopping, skipping and jumping from one end to the other. “Would you like to learn a bit of a song to sing with me?” says the Galway native, introducing some crowd participation for the song Seriously? For many acts this festival will be their youngest audience yet and Laoise is among the few that notably tip-toe around any cursing, while catering their banter to a more younger audience: “The line goes ‘I want you’,” she shouts, “But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, it could be pizza, chips or chocolate.” It is an early crowd, with many people sitting down, but everyone is more than happy to engage with the call and response of the songs. “I write songs about people who are not so nice to me,” proclaims the singer. Hopefully people continue to be mean to her, because she’s churning out some good tunes.
The Dublin four-piece State Lights entertain the afternoon crowd at The Zozimus Stage. With flares of a young Bono or Bryan Ferry, lead singer Shobsy delivers his lyrical sentiment with large hand gestures and fist-clenching high notes, while drummer Paul Ridgeway, constantly on that kick drum, drives the thudding rock sound. As with 99% of songs that apparently “need no introduction”, the singer introduces Radio Gaga, a cover they did recently for 2fm. The tent doubles in size and enthusiasm for the group as they deliver the well-known Queen hit. It was a great performance and one perfect for the family crowd. I bet no one has ever done the floss dance to one of their gigs. At least not ironically, anyway.
The most raucous addition to the whole weekend, Thumper, with the battle formation of two drummers and four guitarists, take over The Zozimus Stage. It is unfortunately muddy at first as the sound engineer seemingly gets to grips with the cacophony of grit that is the Dublin six-piece. A few songs in, all is well with the band’s large sound and they are beguiling the audience with an intense performance. With there being such a big group on stage, many members roam the area, leaving the lead singer Oisín Furlong to engage with the audience. This disorderly sight makes for a wild stage performance, equally matching their fierce rock tunes. The band’s current single In My Room shakes the tent, with a young teenager singing all the lyrics back to the stage. Very much playing the roaming midfielder position, guitarist Alan Dooley takes full advantage of his wireless guitar jack and jumps into the audience to steal a man’s camping chair and take a swig of some young lad’s hip-flask. Not pulling any punches for the family audience and letting loose with reckless abandon, Thumper deliver a ferocious set. There’s sure to be a few music instruments on the Christmas present lists this year.
It is a real shame, but the talented Sorcha Richardson doesn’t get the crowd she deserves, with the tent half filled (or half empty, for the pessimists). What is a set full of heartfelt pop tunes, with original lyrical content and honest insightful sentiment, gets declined in favour of the truly artless rock of Riptide Movement at the mainstage. Nevertheless, tracks like Ruin Your Night and Don’t Talk About It get the best response from the crowd. That attacking synth sequence that accompanies Richardson’s soft vocal tone in 4AM is a joy when performed live. “A lot of good rides outside,” announces the Dublin-based singer, before clearing up: “… like the fairground type.” Consistently more people start to trickle in as the set moves into the second half, but for the others it is a missed opportunity to see a promising new artist.
The Liberties songstress shouts to the mainstage crowd: “Ireland you’re a ride.” Surely, she’s not also talking about the fairground. There are not many fan favourites or sing-a-long anthems tonight, but while dishing out a selection of loud bluesy rock and beefy jazzy ballads, the big band sound sincerely feels like a headline act. May’s voice is the star of the show, with her wide range that can be either impressively powerful or tender, both exactly when it needs to be. An honourable mention goes to the mighty cover of Hozier’s Nina Cried Power. It is a healthy crowd, consisting of families on blow-up sofas down the back and dancing parents up the front, with most children watching, some playing Uno, some playing Frisbee. Nevertheless, the crowd is in great spirits as the sun starts to set on a day that, weather-wise, couldn’t have been better.
Sean & Conor Price
If you thought Beatlemania-esque screams from the audience were a thing of the past, well, think again. Fresh from their headline show in The Olympia Theatre the night before, the X-factor stars take to the Kaleidoscope main stage, with the front row erupting in a high-pitched shrill after each song is finished. These rapping, singing, dancing, guitar-playing, back-flipping (yes, Conor can do a back-flip) teenagers are beaming with enthusiasm. But unlike another enthusiastic Irish X-factor brother-duo, these lads actually have talent and skill. The boys sing well, rap convincingly and show a sincere passion for what they’re doing, as well as having an accomplished backing band behind them. Yes, Jedward did have funny haircuts in fairness to them, but that is no match for what is on show here.
After intermitted waving to various nieces and nephews, Wyvern Lingo decorated the mainstage with their brand of soulful, rhythmic, poppy, jazzy, indie, R&B tunes. “We have been friends since we were 11,” says keyboardist Karen Cowley, hoping to inspire the youthful masses. “It’s really nice to play for people who are also 11. We understand you.” It comes to no surprise that this Bray trio have been singing together since they were kids, as their harmonies interlock so effortlessly throughout the whole set. Maybe It’s My Nature is thunderous in its lead vocals and Crawl is their catchiest most danceable tune yet. Both stand out, but it’s the stripped-down song Dark Clouds which is a strong highlight; fragile in its delivery, with beautiful, nearly haunting backing vocals popping in and out, perfectly bolstering up the honest sentiment.
Still a great group of lads to watch at a festival after all these years, with their catchy melodies and strong booming vocals. Opening the set with Eustace Street and finishing with Secret, the crowd are with them from start to finish. An engaging experience the band can take most of the credit for, as they urge the audience to dance. This is particularly potent on the last song of the night with the entire audience jumping in unison, as the lads smile earnestly, conducting the crowd to move. It is a great performance from a band that so clearly love what they’re doing.
Wild Youth are no strangers to a large open-air gig and it shows. Singer David Whelan owns every square foot of the mainstage, pointing, strutting and spinning. The clouds have kindly parted for the lads, with the sun shining on the dancing crowd. “You gotta keep singing with us,” shouts Whelan, for the most popular camera-phone-wielding song of the evening; Making Me Dance. It is starting to feel like the band only do hits, as the party vibe is relentless. What separates Wild Youth from other pop acts is that they are prepared to alter their songs to enhance the live performance. This gives their radio-friendly tunes a lift and an organic lived-in feel, offering up slick pop tunes with a rock sensibility.
Two days after playing the little unknown Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury on Friday, Tom Odell closes the family friendly weekend at Russborough House. “That’s a grand piano,” says a nearby gig-goer, with an emphasis on “grand” like an Irish Dad-joke master. Just as happy to be at Glastonbury or Wicklow, Odell is beaming. Grow Old With Me is particularly impassioned, with the backing band offering a sincerely spirited performance, crashing through the final extended chorus. There’s a great communion between singer and band. Odell offers up a solo break for each player, to both excite the crowd and pay homage to the talent that he has on stage. With the set coming to a close, Another Love, be it a sad love song, enriches the audience and offers them their final dance of the weekend.
Kaleidoscope is like no other. It is “Ireland’s first family festival”. A weekend sincerely catered to kids, with workshops, demonstrations and a cinema, while boasting a line-up worthy of the price tag, were you an avid gig goer. The entire weekend was a friendly breath of fresh air from the rowdy escapism of the more adult festival. No litter, no fights, no ominous crowding… you might get the odd Frisbee to the head, but you can rest assured no one will piss on your tent (that is if all your kids are toilet trained).
After all was said and done, the festival organisers praised the attendees for the “immaculate condition” that the campsite was left in on Sunday night. Kaleidoscope not only offered us a fun-filled family weekend of music and arts; it also showed us that, as a people, we are capable of leaving a campsite as clean as it was when we arrived. We can, if we want to, leave no trace. We can, if we want to, protect our environment while also having a good time. We’re here for a good time not a long time, they say. What if it was both?